|Each spring thousands of wildflowers bloom across the prairie.|
About 60 miles southwest of Chicago sits a landscape that is one of the last of its kind. Established in 1996, the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is the first national tallgrass prairie in the country. This remnant prairie land once housed part of the former Joliet Army Ammunition Plant. Today, it's a large-scale work-in-progress, as the Forest Service restores the native prairie ecosystem.
Within a few short generations of Euro-American settlers' arrival, over 99% of this biologically diverse landscape had been altered by agriculture and urbanization. Although Illinois still is known as the Prairie State, less than 0.01% of Illinois' original 21 million acres of prairie remains. What once was a vast sea of rich prairie now survives only as tiny, isolated patches. Many species of prairie plants and animals have either disappeared or are in rapid decline due to loss of habitat.
The creation of Midewin offers a rare opportunity to regain some of what has been lost, and on a scale that can make a significant difference to the survival of threatened and endangered prairie species. Most of the landscape of Midewin is currently not tallgrass prairie. About 8,000 acres of the site are grazed by cattle or planted in corn, soybeans, alfalfa, oats, or hay. If farming was abandoned today, the land would not revert to tallgrass prairie by itself; instead, the fields would become dominated by aggressive and mostly nonnative weeds, grasses, and shrubs.
Restoring prairie on crop fields requires replanting using seeds and plants of native prairie species with a need for immense amounts of plant materials. The NFF will help bring much-needed resources to this effort, with a goal to see this very special landscape revitalized. We will also focus on getting the public engaged with this unique landscape, through youth education, volunteer stewardship, community partnerships, and public outreach.
Recently, the NFF brought together many Midewin stakeholders to craft a plan that would set a course for the restoration of all of Midewin and raise the prairie's profile with the American public. Announced at a media event in October 2011, the "Shared Vision for Restoration" at Midewin is available for download here.